Paul Ranger is giving professional hockey another try.
The former Lightning defenseman, who in October 2009 abruptly left the team to deal with an undisclosed personal issue, has signed a one-year deal with the Toronto Marlies, the AHL affiliate of the NHL Maple Leafs.
"I'm happy for Paul. I'm excited for Paul," said junior Ontario Hockey League commissioner Dave Branch, who coached a bantam team with Ranger last season in Ranger's hometown of Whitby, Ontario. "I hope it can turn out to be a positive and he can return and play and enjoy the experience."
Ranger, 27, left the Lightning without a public explanation eight games into the 2009-10 season. That after consecutive summers in which he had difficult rehabs from major surgeries on each shoulder.
Ranger's agent, Joe Resnick, declined to comment on what prompted his client to leave the game or return. But Branch said it might have been the enjoyment Ranger had while helping coach 14- and 15-year olds in Whitby to the Ontario Minor Hockey Association championship.
"The minor hockey experience, the youth hockey experience just seemed to reignite his passion and appreciation for the game," Branch said.
On July 1 Ranger became an unrestricted free agent, free to sign with any team.
Branch said Ranger told him his preference was to play for the Marlies. The question is, how good can Ranger be after three years of inactivity? Ranger, a 2002 sixth-round pick by Tampa Bay, was so highly regarded, then-coach John Tortorella said in 2005-06 of the rookie that he already had one of the league's best first passes out of the defensive zone.
"There's no doubt in my mind," Lightning wing Marty St. Louis said when asked if Ranger will be able to play. "When he was with us he was so good, he had so much potential, I don't think it will be too hard for him. I'm happy for him that he's coming back."
With an eye squarely on the future.
"Paul is focused on doing as well as he can," Resnick said, "and playing for the Marlies."